Drivers, join the Crusade!

This blog is addressed to all the drivers in harness racing,

You are the stars of harness racing and you need to act like it. The horses are no different than the race cars in NASCAR racing, although they provide the horse power, you are the difference between winning and losing in most cases.

As a harness racing driver you must be able to get the most out of a independent thinking animal, coax them to their best performance, weave them through tight openings, strategize in a split second what other drivers are going to do, (no time outs like football, basketball, hockey to figure out the strategy in the middle of the game) expose your bodies to unprotected danger (no roll cage and safety devices like cars have) and do all this while stressing out that you are the 4-5 favourite and if you lose race fans will be cursing you. I can’t think of another sport with so much pressure.

You are racing eight to 10 times per night, you control everything that happens in the race, and you are the most physical and mentally adept athletes in any sport.

So now that we have established that you are the stars of the game you have become those stars to the fans of our sport and more importantly to the new fans of our sport.

ADD EXCITEMENT TO EVERY WIN AND ENGAGE THE PUBLIC!

  • You must become more like drivers in a comparable sport like NASCAR where they jump on top of their car when they win.
  • Hockey players celebrate every goal like it is the biggest thing that ever happened to them.
  • Even golfers celebrate a great putt by pumping their fist and they are the most laid back people I have ever seen.
  • Football players are so animated that they have put rules in to stop the celebration.

BUT GUESS WHAT...FANS LOVE IT!

I have not seen every driver in North America but I can say is thank god for Rick Zeron. Unfortunately because he is the only one who does any signature move it does not get the fans attention like it should. However if you all adopted your own celebration it would become something all fans look forward and they will begin cheering for you like they do athletes in other sports.

Rick once gave his whip to my son and now he cheers Rick on like he did with Mats Sundin of the Leafs. We need to create stars that fans what to go to the races and cheer to victory like they do all the other teams in the city.

Fans love a winner and they want to see that you're happy and they want to cheer your success. They love winners even more in our sport because they have usually cashed a ticket.

If you don’t feel you can get animated in front of the crowd go to the fans around the winner's circle shake their hand or hi-five them and thank them for attending.

Fans come back if they feel appreciated and enjoy an experience with the stars of the track.

Here is an explanation about baby boomers from a marketing magazine:

Boomers crave experience because they won’t believe anything until they see it, touch it, and experience it for themselves. In the new consumer brandscape, it is no longer traditional media or top-down authority carrying the weight. In fact, the boomer’s scepticism of the advertising and marketing industry on the whole is at an all-time high. In a new upside-down influencer hierarchy, it is the boomers, themselves, who are calling for the information they are seeking and whom they will allow into their lives. Whenever you can, don’t just tell them. Have them live it for themselves. The realm of public relations, in cultivating word-of-mouth, editorial, event, and educational opportunities, is increasingly becoming more effective in cutting through the hype and giving them what they most crave: a direct, first-hand experience with your product or service. Sample the product, entertain while you educate, engage with them on-line, establish a living, breathing relationship with the boomer consumer, and you will have the experience you crave, as well; an enhanced bottom line.

In the same realm of making the experience memorable for our fans let’s discuss the dining room. Most new fans attend their first race in the dining room through some company or group event or with friends.

They would be truly engaged if you visited the dining room before the races dressed in racing uniform and thanked them for coming. I believe it would make their night much more exciting and they would cheer for and maybe even wager on you in a night that they are not sure they figure out how to pick a horse.

I know you are all free agents and you are not paid to visit and engage fans but you do make your living from a percentage of the purse and you have no job security. You need to make sure the future of the sport is secure and this is done by fans having an experience at the tracks.

BE THE STAR YOU COULD BE! Maybe we will begin the driver celebration crusade at Adrenaline!

Crusade:

  • exert oneself continuously, vigorously, or obtrusively to gain an end or engage in a crusade for a certain cause
  • be an advocate for
  • campaign: a series of actions advancing a principle or tending toward a particular end

Until next time...join the crusade!

See you at the track,
Mark

Comments

In reply to by billd

Bill, I think there are many historical issues that creates this feeling but I agree it is time the mutuel window becomes a fun place to be where interaction makes you want to return.

Mutuel staff join the crusade, don't wait for management to implement some kind of mandate. Like the rest of us you do not have a job if Harness Racing continues down the path it is on.

The business is changing to the internet, phones and any other electronic gadget that will be invented.

However you can keep people coming to the mutuel window and keep your job if it is a pleasent experience.

Some quotes to consider:

A smile confuses an approaching frown

Life is like a mirror, we get the best results when we smile at it

Attitude is a little thing that makes a big difference. ~Winston Churchill

If you don't like something change it; if you can't change it, change the way you think about it. ~Mary Engelbreit

In reply to by Dr Wayne Robinski

Mr Robinski I can name one Casie Coleman! Now I believe the topic was drivers doing more to promote the sport wasn't it?? Not leading trainers who have been suspended! I also played hockey Mr Robinski and the only thing that kept me from making the NHL was my lack of talent but I still enjoy watching the game, I don't hate the game or the people that play it because I couldn't make it. So what I'm trying to say to you Mr Robinski is don't hate the game!!!

In reply to by Shayne Barrington

Mr Barrington confuses realism with negatism. I have owned trained and driven harness horses. Perhaps Mr Barrington would like to tell us of a leading trainer in North America who has not been suspended.Oh right can't be done.Now take a look at the fines and suspension section, are all the ORC Judges negative to or is that reality also?!

Mark, may I make a suggestion or two with regards to Adrenalin and racing in Sarnia. First, if you want to keep people coming to the races in Sarnia get a sound system that actually gives out good sound. Sarnia is the worst track in Ontario for their sound system. In the grandstand it sounds like DW swallowed the mike, and it is not much better on the tarmac. Second, have things there that will keep families entertained. Similiar to what Grand River does. There is nothing to do between races but see crusty old men smoking and complaining about how this or that driver screwed them out of their $2 bet. I have been there several times with my family to watch my horse race and have had no reason to stay for any other races. The problem is you do not cater to the families who have kids that are the future of the sport. Offer free rides in the start car, tours of the tower and paddocks etc., have contests, make every night loonie night. Stop gouging the paying customers with high prices for food. Give away the programs. Make people want to go to the races. What about making your signal available to others? Every track that races should similcast. If it means that you have to have more race dates then I guess you do it. You certainly would not see any shortcuts taken when it comes to the slots yet the horse racing side takes them all the time. Maybe the owner needs to focus more on the racing and less on the golf business next door.

Thanks for listening

Steve

This is where racing fails big time.The driver isn't the show.No one cares about the driver.People came out to see Somebeachsomewhere run,no one cared that Paul Macdonnel was driving him.

Horse racing is all about outsmarting your competition and making MONEY.The thrill isn't watching your horse cross the finish line first,it's knowing you KNEW it would.

This is a gambling game.Gamblers don't pick a driver like sports fans pick a hockey team or nascar driver.Loyalty is where the gambler places his/her bet for that race.They don't cheer that their driver/horse won,they cheer because "they" selected the winner and WON MONEY.

It's all about GAMBLING.Making MONEY

There is all kinds of documented stories on the internet of young people making a living playing poker or even millions but not ONE story of a successful harness player making a living.NOT ONE.

Try all the gimmicks you want.Your only going to insult the youth of today with your illogical non winning racing and 3/5 favorites.

Good idea. However, I will chip in a comment as to how to better engage the public. Properly train and motivate the Mutuel salespeople. They are a much overlooked factor. I can't speak for all tracks, but when I go to Rideau Carleton, the sellers are pathetic. They greet people with a scowl at the ticket counter, never smile and are generally VERY discourteous. You can't say that it's just one or two bad apples because they are pretty well all the same. The atmosphere is sullen and it has permeated through all the sellers working there.

Hire people, train them in proper customer service and have a manager on the floor overseeing them. A first timer going to the track, going up to the ticket window and encountering this type of rude customer service will not bode well for them coming back or telling friends about their positive experience at the Race Track. Do not overlook the importance of a smile and good customer service. At Rideau Carleton it is non existent.

In reply to by Kelly.Spencer

Hi Kelly I just read about your media relations course at Grand River. Fantastic initiative, I congratulate you and SRA for being so progressive.

We need more Kelly Spencer's in this business...way to go!

Just wanted to let Mr. Leatham know that I've found one Miss Elizabeth impersonator for each track in Ontario, and we'll roll out the first one at Grand River. : )

In reply to by Dr Wayne Robinski

Hi Wayne I feel bad that you feel this way, drivers I have met are awesome people. There will always be bad apples in the bunch but let's not taint the great ones because of a few bad ones.

Let's talk about the great things in our sport that is how we get more people to the track.

Thanks

In reply to by Robert Leatham

Hi Robert thanks for the comments, I feel it is important to reply to all thoughts so here goes.

I appreciate your point of view but I don't think I ever referred to the WWF in my comments. I talked about other professional athletes in sports that are so much more popular than Harness Racing so they are doing something right.

You are right that not every driver can do the public relations piece nor will they want to, but any driver who can speak to the public and promote the sport will help us regain popularity.

Thanks for the young fella comment and I only wish it were true! In my year of birth Scott Frost became the first horse to win the Harness of the Year honors in consecutive years, earning the first place on the ballots of 66 of the 95 writers participating that year. Driven by Joe O'Brien, Scott Frost won 18 of 21 starts in 1956, coming in second in the three other races.[3]

You might be correct about the ORC but that doesn't mean the rule can't be changed for the good of te sport...new ideas can't be stopped by old rules.

You could be right about Adrenaline but I do not see the younger demograhpic showing up at the racetrack today so we have to try something. Every professional sport has taken a complete entertainment approach to reach fans and keep them coming back. Even if they come for the beer and entertainment if we can get them to make that first bet the might be hooked for life.

There is certainly nothing wrong with the standard advertising vehicles however the advertising of our sport has not driven the younger demographic to the track.

I perfer to give the drivers much more credit than to assume they are thinking about anything but the job at hand especially when their life is on the line during every race.

Thanks for your passion and keep promoting the sport in any way you feel comfortable.

In reply to by Shayne Barrington

Hi Shayne this is Mark and thanks for the comments.I can only be positive it is in my personality, nothing will stop me from offering ideas. They will not all work nor will everyone agree but if people keep suggesting positive things the sport can't lose.

I live by a Michael Jordon quote: “I can accept failure, everyone fails at something. But I can't accept not trying.”

and

"The greatest danger in times of turbulence is not the turbulence; it is to act with yesterday’s logic."

— Peter Drucke

Harness Racing is in turbulance!

Have a great day

In reply to by truckinted

Hi Ted this is Mark and thanks for your comment. I love the passion of all people involved in the sport even if it is a different point of view than mine.

You are correct the sport needs the type of advertising you speak of as well but trying something new can never hurt either.

I don't think we have to worry about scaring people away from the sport. When I see the handle at most racetracks and the live attendance they are already staying away!

Keep promoting the sport in whatever manner you choose.

In reply to by the cat1234

Hi Richard thanks for the comment and I wish you all the best. I have seen you drive on TV over the years but never live to witness your great connection with the fans I am sure they loved it.

I wish you and the Montreal horseman all the best.

I used to be one of them. When Ricky Zeron starting thowing whips in to the crowd I was giving out jackets every time I'd win a race. The crowd in Montreal loved it. I left Montreal at the same time as Rick. My nickname and has stayed forever: the cat for me and the whip for him, but down the road the publicity stunts sort of died but I'm still the cat. But my career didn't turn out as good as Ricky but the cat is still alive and hoping for this business to survive, loving it and always will...........

PS: We have kids that love this business too. I had to move to the States because racing died in Montreal and I choose my family first and went back to montreal in 2000, but now what's left of this great sport? People have to start thinking of the game before themself. Please think about that ...............

Richard the Cat Simard

The drivers are the professionals and need to focus on the task at hand,not contemplating what the post race ceremony may consist of should they win the race. I disagree totally with Mr. Hetherman and feel that his idea will only create a circus like atmosphere. Spend money on promoting the product by putting out ads in newspapers, radio and TV. Does the NAC not deserve some publicity? Lets not go too far and scare people away.

In reply to by Dr Wayne Robinski

Shayne Barrington

Great idea Mark! It is nice to see some positive thinking for a change. Unfortunately one of the biggest problems our industry faces is that there are not enough Mark Heatherman's and far too many Wayne Robinski's!!! Please don't let this negativity deter you in your quest to improve our sport.Keep your "positive" ideas and try to ignore the negative and maybe some day we "can" improve this sport many of us enjoy so much! Thank you Mark and keep up the good work!!

In reply to by Dr Wayne Robinski

Can we forego the skepticism for just once.
Yes your point is well taken Wayne, but we need to stop catering to the harness "Fans" that A) have never sat 50 feet behind a horse, yet act like they know everything, or B) are reasonably sophisticated handicappers but think themselves to be NASA scientists. We have to reach out to a new audience.

It's true some tracks have a driving community that would create a public relations nightmare but surely there can be a few good representatives of the sport at every track that can do the hi-touch thing with the new fans at selected occasions. Forget about Joe in the corner who thinks every bet he loses is because the race was fixed or that his driver, with a UDRS of .400 is a moron. Forget about them. Demographically, those types are the past of the sport. Mortality dictates they will be.

It really makes me wonder why people like you Mark, feel the need to reinvent the wheel of standardbred racing to the point where you are actually lecturing the professionals of the sport.

This isn't the WWF. It's not fake entertainment. Isn't it a little brash asking drivers to start acting like Randy the Machoman Savage or the Hulkster? Should they all have a Miss Elizabeth waiting for them in the winners circle to put on a little sideshow eh. Get real man. Zeron's Zorro bit was enough to watch, it's the only good thing the proposed whipping rules have changed so far. Strange how a little bit of good comes out of every bit of bad, isn't it.

Not every driver lives out this fantasied line of work you think they all lead, picking up the lines at the paddock exit and heading to the track like the top ten drivers on the WEG circuit sometimes do. Some drivers actually go to the track and race horses, do a nights work after already taking care of a day job. Not everyone races at WEG, not every driver is one of the top ten, most are in place because of nepotism or cronyism which ever it maybe and not all are capable of being poster boys for your fantasy club nor would they want to be.

I might be wrong young fella but I think it states in the rulebook a driver isn't allowed to enter the grandstand while a meet is in progress or prior to a card starting while dressed in their uniforms. Something you might want to check out before you throw down to many more gauntlets. The ORC might have something to say about that.

As far as Adrenaline goes well I'm not a real believer in promoting a product by keeping it on the back burner. It makes no sense to me. This side line concept of promoting harness racing you and S/C are adopting is out there, that's for sure. It might work, time will tell. Your in to deep to turn back now.

I'm quite sure your target demographic will definitely remember the races after they've drank all the shooters at the shooter contest, that's before the rock concert and that's after they've played beach volleyball all afternoon. No doubt the races will be the thing that brings them back again next year.

Whats wrong with actually advertising the tremendous stake races that already take place across the province at every race track? They all have signature events now. How many adds for the NAC did you watch on CTV, Global, CBC, or any other TV broadcasting station. How many are we going to see for the upcoming Maple Leaf Trot, or the $2,000,000. card of racing that accompanies it. None that's how many.

Can you tell me why?

Is it the drivers fault or what I'm confused.

Why isn't a two million dollar race card worth talking up or paying a newspaper of TV station to run advertisements about it?

What's wrong with paying the main stream media to entice a new fan. What's wrong with promoting horse racing as horse racing? Forget spending money on gimmick's and start spending money on PROMOTING HORSE RACING and let the drivers concentrate on driving. Stop dreaming up gimmicks. Tricks are for kids it and takes 30 bucks to buy a bottle of whisky from where I come from.

I won't like betting on some driver that is dreaming about some nice looking filly he just met in the clubhouse. When I'm betting on him. I want him focused on the task at hand. Getting my 10 to 1 shot across the board. Thanks.

Good Luck with Adrenaline. Marko, Polo, Marko, Polo.

Great idea! I usually try and send all my "newbies" in the starting gate for the experience and they all have thoroughly enjoyed their ride. We all, those of us involved in harness racing, need to be active embassadors for the sport.

Maybe the drivers could show their winning mutual tickets to the "fans " also!!